BBC Video // 2013 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 2nd, 2014
Well, it's all rather complicated.
In 1938, Alfred Hitchcock so impressed American producer David O. Selznick with The Lady Vanishes, his comic mystery adaptation of Ethel Lina White's 1936 novel, The Wheel Spins, that Selznick brought Hitchcock to Hollywood to work for him, which would eventually solidify Hitchcock's reputation as one of the all-time great directors. Until now, the story was only filmed once more, in a 1979 ultra-flop starring Cybill Shepherd and Elliot Gould. While this new adaptation of the story from the BBC isn't going to turn any of its people into legends, it's a solid television movie and a different take on the movie that's pretty fun to watch.
Iris Carr (Tuppence Middleton, Trance) has had an awful weekend with her friends, a group of rich young lovers on vacation in Eastern Europe. Sick of it, she boards the express train west, back to London, away from them. But she's no peach herself; her snobbery and jingoism mean that neither the English people nor the native people will tolerate her. All except Miss Froy (Selina Cadell, Wild Child), who is kind to Iris in spite of her being basically a jerk the whole time. Eventually, Iris falls asleep and, when she wakes up, Miss Froy has not only disappeared, but nobody on the train will confirm she ever existed. Soon, she believes that someone on the train is out to get her and everybody, in turn, thinks that she's gone completely insane.
In Frank Nugent's original 1938 review of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes, he writes, "[W]hen your sides are not aching from laughter your brain is throbbing in attempts to outguess the director." If there's one thing that describes the difference between that version and this one it's that statement. There is nothing remotely funny in this production directed by Diarmuid Lawrence (Emma), and there's little, if any, point in which we don't know that there really is something to Iris' story.
So Diarmuid Lawrence is no Alfred Hitchcock; this version of The Lady Vanishes is a good-looking, fast-paced television movie, which trades comedy in to further highlight the melodrama. The seriousness of it doesn't play as well, necessarily, but it does make for a different interpretation of the story, which is interesting at the very least. But it's more than that because the production is quite good, especially for this kind of television movie. The photography by Peter Greenhalgh (Ballet Shoes) is very pretty during the bright outdoor scenes at the beginning and takes good advantage of the cramped train, making it claustrophobic, while still making it seem like a large space.
The performances are pretty good, too. Iris Carr may not be the most likable heroine out there, but Tuppence Middleton does an excellent job of getting the character over; by the end, it's easy to forget how hateable a person she was at the beginning. Tom Hughes (Cemetery Junction) is good as the love interest/one person who believes Iris, even though they harp on this aspect of the story a little too much, while Alex Jennings (The Queen) is believable as the skeptical professor who continually agrees to help. That's where some of the comedy should be, while the rest is lost when the Caldicott and Charters (Naughton Wayne and Basil Radford, Night Train to Munich) characters are replaced by a pair of dry old women who are just stand-ins and add no value to the film, comic or otherwise.
The DVD from BBC Video is an average bare-bones affair. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image looks just fine, with bright colors and decent black levels. It definitely looks like it comes off television, but it looks clean and new as it should look. The sound is a very basic stereo mix; there aren't a lot of sound effects or a big score to handle, so it doesn't really matter, as the dialog fares just fine in the mix, but there's nothing special about it. There are no extras on the disc.
There is no question that this version of The Lady Vanishes doesn't compare to Hitchcock's classic film, but the change in tone makes it a different beast entirely. It's a right watchable one, at that, one that plays up the mystery and suspense in a flawed, enjoyable way.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2013
MPAA Rating: Not Rated